naot shoe factory .
(photo credit: Dan Izenberg)
Yona Fertouk, the head of the Histadrut labor union in Upper Galilee, is caught between a rock and a hard place. According to Home Command instructions, everyone living in confrontation line communities must stay in their shelters and safe rooms except for workers in factories and services considered vital to the war effort or those receiving special permission to keep operating.
Fertouk is responsible for all workers belonging to the Histadrut in his area, which includes Kiryat Shmona, Hatzor and Safed. On one hand, he is responsible for their safety and well-being. On the other, he is responsible for making sure they have jobs.
"What am I supposed to do in this situation?" he asked. "Should I take into account that the factory has to stay afloat so that the workers will have jobs after the fighting is over, or should I think only about the threat to lives now when they go to work? Where do I find the right balance?"
All in all, Fertouk has taken a cautious approach. In Kiryat Shmona, where he is based, only a few factories are open including the Neviot mineral water plant, Tnuva, the regional bakery and, a few kilometers to the south, the Naot shoe factory. The army has classified three of the factories as vital to the war effort. The fourth, Naot, was granted a work permit because of special economic circumstances.
The local Histadrut branch has not challenged the Home Front's decision to order three of the factories to remain open and allow Naot to operate. Fertouk takes these decisions as a given, although he warned that if anyone was hurt by a rocket at Naot, or any other factory which the army did not consider vital to the war effort but allowed to operate anyway, the Histadrut would charge it with negligence.
According to general-manager Danny Tabib and Yizhar Efrati, head of marketing for Neviot, many families in Israel refuse to drink tap water and are dependent on their product. The plant not only bottles water and delivers it to retail outlets, it also delivers its product to homes and offices with mineral water drinking fountains.
Tabib said the plant is not working at full capacity because of the security situation. "We are working with minimum manpower," he explained. "Whoever is not essential to production is not here." As a result, Neviot is currently producing only its most essential products. Nevertheless, 30 of the plant's full-time staff of 40 employees are working these days. Many of them work 12-hour shifts. The plant is open 24 hours a day.
There are three underground bomb shelters on the premises. Still the Katyushas fall in Kiryat Shmona without advance warning and it takes at least a minute or two for the workers to reach them.
Tabib said he did not order anyone to come to work even though he could have done so according to the law. "They are here voluntarily," he explained.
But the workers do not necessarily share Tabib's idyllic description of the situation. "The general-manager tries to make things look better than they are," Daniel Mazor, head of the workers' committee, told The Jerusalem Post. "All he is really interested in is continuing production."
Mazor may come to work voluntarily, but he also arrives with the feeling that he is making sacrifices and wants to be compensated for them. "People who are endangering their lives want something in return," he said. "Otherwise, those who have not come to work will get the same pay as those who do." Mazor wants the company to pay the employees who work twice their regular salary and also to take responsibility for their families and move them to a safer part of the country.
Mazor's close friend, Dudu, said his wife and two children had gone to Rishon Lezion for a week but he would have to bring them back home again because he did not have money to keep them there longer. Their week-long stay in Rishon had cost NIS 3,000. At the Naot shoe factory plant in Kibbutz Naot Mordechai, 60 employees on Wednesday were frantically producing 4,000 pairs of shoes for an international exhibition of its 2007 summer collection in Las Vegas .
"All the big companies in the world show up at this exhibition," said Michal Schnabel, Naot's chief operating officer. "If you don't, you are not a player and you lose the entire season." Naot was on schedule for producing the collection in time for the exhibition when the war against Hizbullah erupted on July 12th. The following day, the army ordered the factory closed.
After frantic appeals, the Home Command gave permission for 30 employees to start working the following Sunday. Afterwards, it upped the quota to 60, but rejected the company's request to allow even more workers. According to Schnabel, under normal circumstances, all 130 production line workers are involved in the manufacture of the collection. This time, company managers worked alongside the production staff.
The factory is covered by a tin roof but includes two underground bomb shelters. Schnabel said there hasn't been a single day during the fighting that the workers have not had to down tools and rush to the shelters. But there have been no casualties.
Wednesday was Naot's deadline. Workers bent over their tables, assembling the shoes and boxing them. No one had a second to spare. Finally, Schnabel announced, "Today, I can smile and say we fulfilled our mission." Still, Naot has forfeited NIS 6 m. in lost orders that it could not supply on time. Schnabel hopes the army will take these losses into account and allow the factory to continue operating in the days to come, even though the immediate emergency has been successfully overcome.